Researching the chips of the future

October 19, 2020

The chips of the future will include photonics and electronics; they will have a bandwidth, speed and processing and computing abilities that are currently unthinkable; they will make it possible to integrate many other components and their capabilities will increase exponentially compared to electronic chips. In all, they will be essential in many fields; they will bring us a little closer, for example, to quantic computing or to the autonomous car.

The key resides in programmable photonics, a technology in which the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV), through the Photonics Research Labs of the iTEAM institute and its spin-off iPronics, programmable photonics SL, is today an international benchmark. This much is confirmed by Nature, which in its latest iteration has published an article that analyses the present and future of this discipline - programmable photonics - signed, among others, by Photonics Research Labs researchers Daniel Pérez and José Capmany.

"Programmable photonics marks a before and an after in the field of telecommunications. It is a field with great potential and value, due to the complementarity it has with electronics. Our article includes all the progress that has been achieved heretofore around the world in this field, which is garnering increased levels of interest," highlights José Capmany.

Democratising photonics

As part of this progress, special mention must go to the generic purpose programmable chips that the UPV research team is working on. These circuits are capable of providing numerous functionalities by using a single structure, in an analogous way to how microprocessors work in electronics. The article also includes the most recent landmarks in the development of chips for specific purposes - designed for a specific task - and mentions the research of European centres such as the University of Ghent and the Polytechnic University of Milan, or American centres such as the MIT, the University of Stanford and the University of Toronto.

"From a fundamental point of view, the article describes and presents the technology of integrated photonics and the different levels required - photonic hardware, control electronics and software - to make the most of the potential of this type of systems," adds Daniel Pérez.

For the UPV researchers, these technologies will make it possible to "democratise" photonics, which would entail a "true revolution" in the field of telecommunications.

"As well as for the autonomous car or quantic computing, integrated photonics will also help improve automated learning systems, 5G communications or the development of neuromorphic computing, with chips that will imitate the network of neurons of our brain and their connections. All these uses require great flexibility and the processing of large amounts of data at high speeds. And this is what programmable photonics offers, and it is what the article published in Nature addresses," highlights Daniel Pérez.
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Three in "Nature" and upcoming challenges

With this one, journal Nature has now published three articles on the work developed by researchers from the PRL-iTEAM of the UPV in the field of integrated photonics, an achievement that consolidates their international leadership in this field.

On the upcoming challenges, José Capmany and Daniel Pérez stress the need to provide the systems with scalability and integrate more and improved components in the chips. "Today, research is focused on scalability, both of hardware and software. And we predict that in two or three years, the amount of tunable units integrated in chips could double. This way, the level of capabilities, what we could do with these chips, will increase exponentially," conclude the researchers of the PRL-iTEAM of the UPV.

Universitat Politècnica de València

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